ST. PETERSBURG — One of the few positive developments in this underwhelming Yankees season has been Clarke Schmidt’s emergence as a reliable starter, one who provides competitive efforts more often than not. His next challenge will be navigating the deepest part of the contest, a task he completed for the first time on Saturday.
Schmidt touched the seventh inning for the first time in his Major League career, firing 6 2/3 solid innings. The right-hander accepted a tough-luck loss as the Yankees managed just two hits, both by DJ LeMahieu, in falling to the Rays, 3-0, at Tropicana Field.
“It’s been my goal, and the knock on me recently is, ‘Can you get guys out the third time through the order?’” Schmidt said. “To go deeper into games and answer that call a little bit was a good feeling. It was big to go longer than I’ve gone this year and in my career.”
Schmidt permitted three runs (one earned), losing for the second time this season to Tampa Bay. In a May 14 start, the Rays hammered Schmidt for seven runs over 4 2/3 innings, an outing that represented the turning point of his season.
Since that game, Schmidt is 7-4 with a 3.71 ERA in 18 games (17 starts). In his first nine starts of the year, Schmidt was 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA.
“I feel like I’ve already grown a lot from the beginning of the year,” Schmidt said. “Continuing to be out there and learning how to navigate those situations, the only way is baptism through fire, I guess.”
On Saturday, Schmidt delivered another contest in which he kept his club within striking distance, but offensive support was absent. Tyler Glasnow was in command, holding New York to a pair of walks until LeMahieu broke through with a single to right-center with one out in the sixth.
“I didn’t think [Glasnow] was dominant today like we’ve seen him at times,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I actually thought we had, for the most part, a lot of competitive at-bats. I don’t think we chased him out of the zone very often. We hit some balls on the button, but obviously weren’t able to do much against him.”
Tampa Bay’s first two runs off Schmidt were unearned, as the second inning opened with an error by third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa. After a Luke Raley double, Harold Ramírez and Jonathan Aranda lifted sacrifice flies.
“Clarke Schmidt, he’s good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He mixed his pitches well. We knew that coming in. The curveball, cutter, he’s just tough to square up. It kind of proved that way today.”
Josh Lowe added a run-scoring double in the third off Schmidt, a ball misplayed in center field by Harrison Bader, who said he lost sight of it against The Trop’s domed roof.
“It’s not my favorite; the turf is a little sticky, and the roof is a little tough,” Bader said. “Repetition is king with that. We’ve got to go out there and get your work in before, during batting practice. You get acclimated pretty quickly.”
Schmidt scattered six hits without a walk, striking out five, including the final batter he faced — a nine-pitch showdown with catcher René Pinto.
“I was executing pitches, and he was putting good swings on it,” Schmidt said. “I felt like I wanted to give myself a second of calm out there, rethinking my game plan and how we were going to get this guy out. It was a big sigh of relief and a big confidence boost to get him out.”
Schmidt has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 21 starts, which ranks fourth in the Majors behind the Padres’ Blake Snell (23), the Twins’ Sonny Gray (23), and the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole (22).
“He definitely did his job and gave us a chance,” Boone said.
With Glasnow out of the game after six innings, the Yanks’ fortunes didn’t improve much against the bullpen. LeMahieu opened the ninth with a hit, but Pete Fairbanks struck out Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres before inducing Giancarlo Stanton to pop out.
It marked the Yanks’ eighth shutout loss of the season, and their first since Aug. 16 at Atlanta.
“It’s been frustrating trying to create momentum,” Bader said.